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Earth Day’s golden anniversary

The estimated 20 million people who rallied for the first Earth Day 50 years ago might not have changed the world as much as they’d hoped, but they just might have changed it more than they thought possible.

Since that April 22 five decades ago, pollution has fallen dramatically, while energy efficiency has greatly increased. Solar energy and wind power are making serious moves toward providing a significant share of our nation’s electricity. Every major car company is expanding their electric vehicle options, and according to The Recycling Partnership, a non-profit industry group, about half the homes in the United States have some version of curbside recycling program. 

At the time, even I got caught up in an Earth Day episode that illustrates another way the nation has changed its approach to the environment.

I was a senior on the high school debate team, and the topic proposed by the National Forensics League was whether the federal government should establish programs to control air and water pollution. About half of us would contend that yes, the federal government should have pollution control programs, while the other half said no. We spent our evenings filling file boxes with index cards of research to prove our side to the small panel of judges that would gather in classrooms on Saturdays for the debate tournaments.

The book that inspired Earth Day

Then, the president of the United States almost literally turned our world upside down. On July 9, 1970, less than three months after that first Earth Day, President Richard Nixon sent a reorganization plan to Congress creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“…as a matter of effective and orderly administration, additional new independent agencies normally should not be created,” said Nixon’s formal proposal. But in this case, it continued, the EPA was needed “…because arresting environmental deterioration is of great importance to the quality of life in our country and the world.”

For some of the high school debaters, that meant suddenly switching sides the teams defending the “status quo” of no government program on the environment now had to defend a status quo that included the EPA.

While the high school debaters scrambled to rewrite their speeches, policymakers moved boldly to create sweeping federal laws: expansion of the Clean Air Act in 1970 and enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Credit for setting the stage that made Earth Day possible often goes to Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring, about the effects of chemicals in the environment, especially linking the pesticide DDT with a decline in the number of bald eagles.

But two events in 1969 led more directly to that first Earth Day. In January, a three-million gallon oil spill coated beaches along Southern California, and in June, pollution in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire. Organizers used the publicity from those disasters and combined them with the 1960s tactics of college student protests for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. The time of year for Earth Day was chosen for falling after spring break and before final exams. By 1972, the federal government banned DDT.

A wacky idea for reducing acid rain

The heightened awareness brought attention to other environmental issues: the lead additive in gasoline was shown to damage health in many ways; refrigerants and solvents were among chemicals blamed for depleting the ozone layer of the atmosphere, which protects the Earth from the harshest rays from the sun; and sulfur dioxide from coal-fired power plants was blamed for “acid rain” that was damaging forests.

A ban on ozone-depleting chemicals took effect in 1989, reversing damage to the ozone layer. Getting the lead out of gasoline and curbing acid rain got help through the 1980s with the innovative idea of pollution credits. The notion behind the credits, also known as emissions trading, had the government setting an overall industry limit on pollution rather than requiring reductions by each power plant or refinery. That way, a power plant could emit more than the limit if it could buy or trade emissions credits with another plant that was way under the allowed limit.

That might sound a little crazy, but it worked. Lead was phased out of gasoline from 1971 to 1988, and sulfur dioxide emissions have been reduced by 87% according to the EPA.

Huge gains in energy efficiency have also eased environmental impacts since 1970. LED light bulbs use as much as 80% less electricity and last as much as 25 times longer, says the U.S. Department of Energy. Cars and trucks are becoming more efficient and less polluting as well. The EPA reports that over the past 50 years, fuel economy has doubled and carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles have been cut in half.

The rise of renewable energy is another story of the past five decades. In 1970, nearly half of our electricity came from coal-fired power plants. Today, solar energy and wind power are on the rise, generating nearly 10% of electricity. Of all the electric generation being planned for 2020, more than three-fourths will come from wind or solar, according to the Energy Information Administration.

For all those achievements, environmental changes since the first Earth Day might be the perfect example of how a glass can be viewed as half-empty or half-full. Regardless, focusing on ways we can improve our environment will certainly take center stage on April 22, 2020, when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Beware of calls claiming there’s a problem with your Social Security account

Social Security and its Office of the Inspector General continue to receive reports about fraudulent phone calls from people claiming to be Social Security employees. These scammers try to trick people into providing personal information or money, and often threaten their victims with arrest. Don’t be fooled.

Our employees will never threaten you for information or promise a benefit in exchange for personal information or mon- ey. Real Social Security employees also will not:

  • Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.
  • Contact you to demand an immediate payment.
  • Ask you for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaiddebit card, a retail gift card, or cash.
  • Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the abil-ity to appeal the amount you owe.
  • Promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, inexchange for information or money.

If you receive a suspicious call or are unsure of the identity of someone who claims to be from Social Security:

  • Hang up.
  • Do not give money or personal information.
  • Report the scam to our Office of the Inspector General at

Cattle woman

When she was named executive vice president of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association in 2017, Erin Beasley became the first fe- male to head that organization. A cattle farmer herself, she holds degrees in meat science and muscle biology from Auburn University, where she was president of the College of Agriculture and was named the Outstanding Student Award winner for Meat Science. She has received many national and collegiate awards, including the Great Idea Award from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. She currently directs the 9,500 members of the Cattlemen’s Association, one of the top three such groups in the country. She and her hus- band, Chad, a contractor, live in Notasulga with their two children, Hunter, 4, and Tatum, 3 months. We talked with Erin about her life promoting the beef cattle industry in our state. – Lenore Vickrey

Tell us about your growing-up years.

I moved to Alabama in 2004 to attend Auburn University and have been in the state ever since. I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. Ironically enough, I did not grow up in a cattle family. I was involved in the horse industry while growing up, which had me working on a farm every summer. My fondest memories were working and sweating in the Florida heat! I was also involved in 4-H as a kid along with different horse breed organizations that developed my interest in the livestock industry. Once I moved to Auburn, I majored in animal science and immediately got involved in all things livestock to “catch me up” on experiences I didn’t have as a child. I found my passion, to say the least.

Do you have a special fondness for cattle, or do you love all animals?

In general, I am an animal lover but I do have a fondness for cattle and I am excited to raise my kids on a farm. I didn’t get to spend my first 18 years entrenched in the industry, but I hope to be the rest of my life. My degree from Auburn is actually in meat science, so I have a genuine interest in the entire beef cattle cycle. I consider it a blessing that I not only get to advocate for the industry I love, but enjoy raising our product as well. It is something my husband and I can do together and involve our children as they get older.

Did you ever see yourself as becoming the head of a large organization of cattle farmers?

I definitely did not. When I look back at the last 15 years, I can honestly say I have been in the right place at the right time. I have had tremendous mentors and influencers in my career. I firmly believe I have found my niche in the industry because association work is a relationship and advocacy business, which I thoroughly enjoy. I also get to work for and represent some of the best people in the state, cattlemen.

What is a typical day like?

A day is hard to pinpoint because no two are the same, which keeps life interesting! Time management and juggling a lot of balls is the hardest part of association work. My main duties include overall management of the association, lobbyist for the cattle industry and editor of the Alabama Cattleman magazine. We have other large events and tasks that I am responsible for such as our annual Convention and Trade Show and the SLE Rodeo in March. My day to day also includes an open ear for any member issues or assisting my team where they need me on other association matters.

The website says today’s cows are much heavier than previous years, but that the beef is much leaner due to improved genetics, nutrition and better management. Can you talk about that?

The beef industry has done a tremendous job in efficiency the last 40 years. Thanks to continuous progression in genetics, nutrition and management, cattlemen are producing more with less each year. We are the definition of sustainability because of this. If you take a minute and Google pictures of cattle or beef from the 1970s you will see that cattle used to be really short and thick. Steaks used to have an inch of fat thickness. Today, our cattle are medium to large frame, are finished at around 1,400 lbs and produce about 1⁄4 inch fat thickness. That is a success story for the industry. We continue to produce a product that our consumer demands. Additionally, we now have over 30 cuts of beef that are classified as lean by the USDA but we have not sacrificed taste as we do it.

What is it about Alabama’s climate and land that makes it conducive to raising cattle?

Most people don’t know it but 2/3 of the land in the US is not conducive for crop production. Luckily, we can grow forages on this land which cattle graze and convert into a high-quality protein. In Alabama specifically, we can grow a diverse range of forages because of our annual precipitation and various soil types. To give you some perspective, cattlemen in the western states graze one cow/calf pair to over 40 acres. In Alabama we can graze one cow/ calf pair to every acre and a half to two acres depending on the forage quality.

What is the current ACA membership?

Our membership is over 9,500 members across all 67 counties in the state. We are a grassroots organization in that our counties do a fantastic job at recruiting members that help us generate such a large membership each year. ACA consistently ranks one of the top three cattlemen’s association memberships across the country.

Prepare your family now for tornado safety

Alabamians are well aware of the destructive power of torna- does. It was nine years ago this month – April 27, 2011 – that 62 confirmed tornadoes cut a swath through Alabama, and 238 people in the state lost their lives. Thousands more were injured.

So there’s perhaps no better time to review tornado safety plans and talk with your family about them. But remember, tornadoes can occur at any time of day or night and at any time of the year.

  • Be weather-ready: Check the forecast regularly to see if you’re at risk for tornadoes. Listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay informed about tornado watches and warnings. Check the Weather-Ready Nation for tips.
  • Sign up for notifications: Know how your community sends warnings. Some communities have outdoor sirens. Others depend on media and smart phones to alert residents of severe storms capable of producing tornadoes.
  • Create a communications plan: Have a family plan that includes an emergency meeting place and related information. If you live in a mobile home or home without a basement, identify a nearby safe building you can get too quickly, such as a church or family member.
  • Know your safe place: Pick a safe room in your home, such as a basement, storm cellar, or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.
  • Practice your plan: Conduct a family severe thunderstorm drill regularly so everyone knows what to do if a tornado is approaching. Make sure all members of your family know to go there when tornado warnings are issued. Don’t forget pets if time allows.
  • Prepare your home: Consider having your safe room reinforced. You can find plans for reinforcing an interior room to provide better protection on the Federal Emergency Management Agency website.
  • Help your neighbor: Encourage your loved ones to prepare for the possibility of tornadoes. Take CPR training so you can help if someone is hurt.

During a tornado

  • Stay weather-ready: Continue to listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay updated about tornado watches and warnings.
  • At your house: If you are in a tornado warning, go to your basement, safe room, or an interior room away from win- dows. Don’t forget pets if time allows.
  • At your workplace or school: Follow your tornado drill and proceed to your tornado shelter location quickly and calmly. Stay away from windows and do not go to large open rooms such as cafeterias, gymnasiums, or auditoriums.
  • Outside: Seek shelter inside a sturdy building immediately if a tornado is approaching. Sheds and storage facilities are not safe. Neither is a mobile home or tent. If you have time, get to a safe building.
  • In a vehicle: Being in a vehicle during a tornado is not safe. The best course of action is to drive to the closest shelter. If you are unable to make it to a safe shelter, either get down in your car and cover your head, or abandon your car and seek shelter in a low lying area such as a ditch or ravine.

Information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Keeping heritage alive

Group honors sacrifice of Civil War soldiers

Rifle salute near the Alabama State Capitol on Confederate Memorial Day 2019.

“To you, Sons of Confederate Veterans, we will commit the vindication of the cause for which we fought. To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier’s good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles which he loved and which you love also, and those ideals which made him glorious and which you also cherish.”

Stephen Dill Lee spoke those words during an address in 1906 while serving as the commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Organized in 1896, the SCV exists to honor and remember the bravery of Confederate veterans. In 1864, 30-year-old Lee became the young- est lieutenant general in the Confederate Army.

More than 258,000 Americans died fighting for the Confederacy during those bitter years of 1861-65. Many more soldiers and civilians died from disease, starvation and other causes.

“The Sons of Confederate Veterans is a historical heritage organization,” says Oren Fannin, a former commander of the SCV Private Augustus Braddy Camp 385 in Pike County. “The group exists to defend the heritage and good name of the Confederate soldier.”

Descendants of Confederate veterans form “camps” to honor the valor and sacrifice of their ancestors. Camps form “brigades.” Brigades comprise a division, such as the Alabama Division.

Fannin’s camp holds a dinner with a guest speaker each month. They also hold various other functions throughout the year including caring for cemeteries.

“We put flags on Confederate graves and clean up cemeteries, even some ceme- teries that don’t have Confederate veterans buried there,” Fannin says. “We usually have an event at the state capitol where we have people in period dress, a cannon salute and a speaker. During April, we honor and celebrate the courage and character of the Confederate soldiers.”

After the Civil War, many Southern states set aside days to memorialize their soldiers who fought so hard, for so long with so little. Alabama declared April as Confederate History and Heritage Month. In 1901, the state Legislature set aside the fourth Monday in April as Confederate Memorial Day. It occurs on April 27 this year.

Some SCV members also participate in Civil War re-enactments. Movie companies frequently use re-enactors as extras while making historical films because re-enactors bring their own period-correct uniforms, weapons and gear.

Any male descendant of a veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces can join the SCV. For more information, visit or call 800-380- 1896.

‘Electrofishing’ is about science, not sport

Photos and column by John N. Felsher

As the boat pulled up next to a fallen tree along a wooded shoreline deep in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, Dave and Tommy readied their fishing equipment. They unlimbered two long poles, but they weren’t tossing lures or dropping baits into the water. In fact, they weren’t using any kind of attractant at all. In reality, their equipment greatly repels fish, but they always return with a mess of assorted species.

From long poles dangling off boat bow, they dropped into the water what looked like extended bony fingers on two unclutched hands. Although the “hands” never grabbed a fish, moments after they entered the murky water, fish began jumping in all directions. Tommy worked furiously to net as many fish as possible and dump them into a livewell as fast as he could.

No ordinary fishermen using common recreational techniques this day, Dave Armstrong and Tommy Purcell work for the Alabama Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Division. They used a method called electrofishing or electrosampling. With electricity, biologists can quickly gather many fish of diverse species for sampling and scientific study.

After catching the fish, biologists collect biological data on them to determine the health of the system and the species. They keep some fish for scientific testing back at the lab, but release the rest.

They use the data collected to determine the health of a system so they can manage the waters to keep them productive.

“The Mobile-Tensaw Delta is one of about a half-dozen waterbodies in this district that we check periodically,” says Armstrong, the District V fisheries supervisor for the AWFFD in Spanish Fort. “We want to primarily monitor the sportfish populations like largemouth bass and crappie. Sometimes, we try to specifically target other different species.”

A generator on the boat creates electrical current. Beams, or poles, hold the metal probes, or droppers. Current flows into the droppers to shock fish. The boat serves as a “ground,” keeping the human occupants safe.

“The boat works like a cathode, or ground,” Armstrong says. “The beams and the droppers that come off the end is the anode. Between the boat hull and the droppers, we create an electrical charge. That electrical field surrounds the boat, but it’s concentrated off the bow where the droppers are. In the boat, we are safe, but if someone puts a finger in the water, it will get zapped.”

In the water, fish and other creatures feel the sting from the electrical charge and try to escape from it. The electric field varies in size, but generally goes as deep as six feet on average. In shallow water, fish can’t swim under it so they vault to the surface. Some try to jump clear of the water. Others float up to the surface temporarily stunned, making them easier to net.

“We try very hard not to kill fish,” Armstrong says. “Our goal is to get as many fish into the boat alive and release them as quickly as possible. The fish are stunned for a little while, but they revive very quickly. We can gather a lot of data on a lot of different fish species in a short amount of time. The delta probably has a greater diversity of species than any other part of the state.”

Dave Armstrong and Tommy Purcell, both Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division biologists, sort through some fish they caught while electrofishing in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta near Mobile.

On this warm, sunny spring day, the team collected several species commonly landed by recreational anglers, including largemouth bass, crappie, catfish and assorted sunfish. The team recorded length and width measurements, weight and other data from species of interest before releasing most of the fish. However, they did keep some for further study back at the lab.

“We’ll keep a few fish for aging purposes,” Armstrong says. “We have to kill those fish, but that’s a small number. We take out their otoliths, or ear bones, which are like rings on a tree trunk. From those rings in its otolith, we can tell a lot about that fish’s growth in any given year. How much a fish grows depends on many variables, like temperature, rainfall, food availability, etc. We also get sex data on those fish.”

When electrofishing, biologists stick electric probes called “droppers” like these into the water to shock the fish and bring them to the surface where they can net them.

Besides the usual bass, bream and crappie, the team also caught chain pickerel, bowfin, shad, garfish and other species. The catch also included quillback carpsuckers, smallmouth buffalo and redhorse. I even saw some fish and other creatures that I’ve never seen before and didn’t know existed. Amazingly, prey and predators all live next to each other near fallen logs, old stumps, weed beds or other cover. When droppers enter the water, no telling what might pop up after the juice flicks on.

District V covers 11 counties in southern Alabama. Biological teams throughout the state conduct similar sampling in waters they manage.

Cousin Benny meets an angel

By Hardy Jackson

I have mentioned Cousin Benny from time to time, but considering the importance of what is to follow, let me tell you about him again.
Cousin Benny, my first cousin, is like a brother to me. He is my Aunt Anne’s (Daddy’s baby sister) “little peach” — 6-foot, 2-inches, 300 pounds of retired Mississippi Bureau of Investigation manhood.

Goateed and pony tailed, he looks like the Big Lebowski’s missing brother or a refugee from a Grateful Dead concert.

Now Benny is not inclined to make things up. Nor is he inclined to see the world through rose-tinted glasses. You can’t put anything over on Benny.

If I am ever going somewhere I ought not to go, I want to take Benny with me.

Get the picture?

So when Benny told me he had met an angel, I paid attention.

It happened a few years ago. December. He and his wife, Martha, had come to visit his mother, who was in a nursing facility close to me.

He came back from the visit all excited. “Guess what I saw at the nursing home today?” Benny exclaimed as he sat down in my kitchen. “An angel.”

Not my first guess, or even my second.

He continued. “We were sitting in the lobby, waiting to go in and see Mother. This guy comes in.”

Benny has spent his life observing people but this one was special.

“He was bigger than me (and you gotta be big to be bigger than Benny), clean shaven, and red-faced from either the cold or the alcohol, you could smell it on him.”

His size was emphasized by his too- small outfit – warm-up pants, t-shirt and zip-up-the-front hoodie which failed to cover his “very large protruding belly.”

Benny figured it was some homeless wino in from the cold.

After picking up some information bro- chures from the registration desk the guy walks over to Benny, reaches in his pocket, and pulls out a $20 bill wrapped around a business card.

He hands it to Benny.
Benny politely refuses to take it.
The man insists.
So Benny takes it.

Then the man sat down on the couch with Benny and began to ramble on about nursing homes in general and about how he planned to get cigarettes for the smokers in rehab there. After a few minutes of that, he got up, reached in his pocket, and pulled out a wad of bills – most of them twenties – which he handed to Martha with instruc- tions to give them to needy residents.

He could be this generous, the man explained, because he was “a zillionaire” and an angel on top of that.

Yessir, an angel.

Not an archangel, he wanted that made clear, something along the lines of a “special forces angel who had not earned his wings yet.”

And with that, he left.

Neither Benny nor Martha saw where he came from, or where he went.

Benny and Martha counted the money — $300, all in twenties — which they turned over to the business office to be used to help anyone in the facility who needed it.

The information on the business card he gave Benny was sketchy – “One Man’s Ministry” followed by a name and city and a reference to “Blue Letter Bible.” I suppose we could do an internet search and find out more about him.

But I don’t want to.
I’d rather stick with Benny’s explanation. He was an angel.
Neither Benny, nor Martha, nor Hardy for that matter, have ever seen one of the Heavenly Hosts, but as Benny noted, “We have been told that they walk among us.”

And I thought, “Yes, maybe they do.”

Defending the home front:

How to control invasive plants in the garden

By Katie Jackson

Invasive plants are so tenacious that it often takes a combination of methods to reduce their numbers. One efficient option is the cut-and-spray method of mechanically cutting down a plant as close to the ground as possible then treating the cut spot directly with a chemical herbicide. This method targets only the cut surface, so less herbicide is needed, but to be effective the herbicide should be applied immediately after the cut is made when the chemical can still be absorbed into the root system. Photo by Katie Jackson

What’s the difference between a garden variety weed and an invasive weed? The former is an annoying pest, while the latter is a serious threat. But gardeners can help in the control of both.

Weeds, often described as “plants out of place,” are unwanted plants that rob resources from preferred plants in the landscape. Invasive plants are defined as non-native (alien) species that, when introduced into an environment where they have no natural enemies, spread quickly and vigorously, soon overwhelming local ecosystems.

To be clear, not all non-native plants are invasive, and many native plants can be “weedy,” meaning they can grow aggressively and become pests. But invasive non-natives (also called exotics) aren’t just fast growing – they are bullies in the landscape that push native species out and disrupt ecosystem balance.

This imbalance threatens not just plants, but also animals, insects, microbes and other living organisms and also decreases the ecosystem functions that support all life on Earth. What’s more, battling invasives costs government agencies and private landowners billions of dollars each year.

Sad to say, while some of these invaders were introduced accidentally, many are treacherous beauties we humans introduced as ornamental plants for our gardens and landscapes. Among them are Chinese privet, thorny olive (Elaeagnus), English ivy, heavenly bamboo (nandina), non-native wisteria, leatherleaf mahonia, popcorn tree (tallowtree), mimosa and Callery (Bradford) pear. These and other exotic plants are rampant in Alabama; privet alone has infested an estimated 1 million acres in the state.

Invasive plants are difficult and expensive to control everywhere, including in city parks and other public areas such as the Caroline Dean Wildflower Garden in Opelika where a team of volunteers collected this giant pile of invasives during a single day of work. Banding together for community cleanup projects is a great way to help control invasives in our communities. Photo by Katie Jackson

Happy to say, we gardeners can help mitigate that damage and slow, if not defeat, these invaders by starting in our own yards and communities. The first step is to know the enemy, which means learning to identify the invasive plants present in your local landscape. Identification help is available through a number of resources including the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Invasive Plant website (, the Alabama Invasive Plant Council ( and the Field Guide for the Identification of Invasive Plants (

Once you know your enemies, you can go to battle using four primary control strategies: mechanical (physically removing invasives by weeding, cutting, tilling, mowing, etc.), cultural (employing landscape practices that exclude invasive and encourage native plants), chemical (using plant targeted herbicides) and biological (introducing living organisms that are natural enemies of the invasives).

Of these, mechanical and cultural controls are the most labor intensive but often ideal for gardens and small acreages and offer a more organic approach to control. Chemical control is effective, especially in conjunction with other control measures, but should be used judiciously and according to label directions. Biological controls are harder for home gardeners to access and are typically used for large acreages, such as state parks and forestland.

Information and training to use these control measures are available through local Cooperative Extension System offices and Master Gardener groups and through Extension’s Invasive Plant website and Facebook page. Check for local invasive plant control events and programs, too.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Help your neighbors remove invasives from their yards and volunteer for community cleanup and education events.

April Tips

  • Sow seeds for beans, corn, squash, melons and other summer vegetable crops.
  • Begin planting tomatoes, peppers and eggplants once the threat of a hard freeze has passed.
  • Fertilize warm-season lawns and plant new lawns.
  • Plant summer annual flowers and summer-blooming bulbs.
  • Move houseplants outside and clean dust from the leaves of indoor plants.
  • Celebrate Earth Day (April 22) by planting natives, creating a pollinator garden or volunteering at a community garden.

Conservation’s eyes in the skies

By Allison Law

William Johnston does his pre-flight check of the single-engine Cessna 182, the plane he flies for the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division in the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). His mission today: to check for populations of cattle egrets, do a visual check of an active eagle’s nest, and give some visitors a glimpse of what is for him another day at the office, providing the eyes in the skies for the state of Alabama.

When Johnston flies, he’s always accompanied – either by a wildlife biologist, when he’s needed to help with surveys of deer, turkey or other animals, or a conservation officer, when he’s flying for law en- forcement purposes. During hunting season, the missions are almost always related to enforcement, look- ing for illegal bait and night hunting.

William Johnston flies a Cessna 182 for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Photo by Billy Pope

“It’s amazing what you can see from the air,” Johnston says. “There’s no hiding from us.” The aviation program is a critical component of Alabama’s conservation efforts. With eagles, for example, at one time there were few in the state; the Conservation Department got involved with eagle restoration, and Johnston’s flights allow biologists to monitor their nesting activities and provide a way to document the program’s success in restoring the majestic birds to Alabama.

Johnston is also involved in the state’s annual waterfowl survey. He’ll fly down to the delta area in south Alabama, all the way up to the Tennessee River area to monitor the counts of certain species of water birds, which has to be done at certain times of the year.

Marine Resources – another division within the Conservation Department uses the plane to count crab traps inside the bay near Mobile. A task that takes several days by boat, Johnston can help personnel accomplish in a matter of hours.

He can attach antennae to the airplane that will track animals deer, turkey and bats, among others that biologists have outfitted with radio transmitters. Such surveys help the Conservation Department to manage, protect and enhance the populations of all of Alabama’s wildlife, some of which are endangered or imperiled.


The airplane Johnston flies is equipped with up-to-date avionics and high-tech flight displays and communications capabilities. It also has an enhanced vision system called MaxViz, which presents real-time images of the external en- vironment and allows for safe flying at night.

“One of the things that scares me most is hitting wildlife on takeoff and landing,” Johnston says. “Those are the most dangerous parts of fly- ing.”

Yet another hazard, thanks to technology: drones.

“In the past, we just worried about a bird strike,” says Fred Harders, as- sistant director of the WFF division. But drones are metal, not flesh and bone, and have the potential to do real damage to aircraft – and the personnel on the plane.

This photo shows members of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s Rural Operations Unit and the Division’s Air Support Unit. They work together in search and rescue, man tracking, and disaster response. The units also assist in training other state, county, and municipality first responders in rural operation first aid, tracking, and recovery.

General aviation cannot fly below 500 feet above the ground, and drones are limited to 400 feet above the ground. But a 100-foot separation is a small comfort. “We don’t fly over populated areas, but we do fly over parks,

places where people like to take drones,” Johnston says. “So we have to change our missions based on the use of technology.”

While drones are potential hazard, they have the ability to pro- vide imagery from above – which is a part of Johnston’s job. But he doesn’t think they’ll replace what he can do.

“A lot of people think drones are something you see on TV. You sit in your chair and play video games,” he says. But by regulation, the drone has to be in the line of sight of the pilot.

And accessibility is another hindrance that Johnston doesn’t have. To see a beaver dam, for example, Johnston can fly right over it; a drone operator would have to get close to the dam, per- haps into swampy, inaccessible areas, to launch a drone.

Professional drones can cost from the tens of thousands to millions of dollars – not nearly as economical as an airplane and a pilot, who acts as a shared resource between divisions and even among different agencies.

Still, some might consider a high-tech airplane as a luxury item, an extravagance in times of tight state budgets. Not so, Harders says.

For law enforcement, they fly both day and night; to pay for a private pilot and airplane would be cost-prohibitive. And Johnston can be called on for other kinds of flights: he recently flew some state Department of Transportation personnel around the Birmingham area to gauge traffic flow. And he can be called at a moment’s notice after a severe weather event or some other kind of disaster.

After the BP oil spill, he was part of the response from day one, flying people and supplies, for aerial surveillance and imagery.

“Having an aircraft is not a luxury, it’s a work item,” Harders says. And for the record, the ADCNR receives no General Fund support; its funding is generated through special revenues, including user and license fees.

Skill in the skies

Johnston was born in Brazil, to a Brazilian mother and an American engineer father. He lived all over – South America, Washington, D.C., San Francisco – and after high school joined the U.S. Army. He was an engineer on active duty from 1990 – 1994 with a deployment to Iraq.

He started taking flying lessons in 1995, and his first job was flying banners up and down the beach in south Florida. For better pay, he moved to Alaska and earned his instructor’s license; he built hours and started flying cargo on a turbo prop.

“It’s unique, Alaska,” Johnston says, recalling the extreme weather, treacherous terrain and rough, rugged airstrips. He had an experience there that would change his career path.

From the air, Johnston can assist game and fish law enforcement officers, both on land and water. Photo by Billy Pope

It was a dangerous flying scenario, but he wasn’t scared. “I realized that I’m so used to that kind of flying, I’m going to kill myself because I didn’t get scared,” he says. The danger wasn’t lack of skill; it was that he had grown too accustomed to risk.

“I’m too comfortable flying this kind of stuff.”

He applied with the state of Alabama and started flying for the Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) in 2004. He moved over to ADCNR seven years ago.

He flies about 250 hours in an average year; he has 9,600 hours of flight time total and has a rating to fly three large airplanes, including the Citation CJ4, which the governor uses. In fact, he flew Gov. Kay Ivey when she was lieutenant governor.

Today, he enjoys being a part of the state’s efforts to promote conservation and wildlife law enforcement. “I love flying, but I’m accomplishing something.”

Harders says Johnston’s flying is not just from airport to airport. “It’s a highly skilled, technical flying that he does in that aircraft,” Harders says, noting that it’s important for ADCNR to have a pilot of his skill level.

Johnston knows that other types of flying – for an airline, for example – offer good money, and carry a certain prestige. But shuttling people from point A to point B doesn’t provide the sense of accomplishment he enjoys now. “I really enjoy looking back and saying, I was a part of that.”

Johnston’s flights help wildlife biologists and conservation officers in areas that would be difficult to access by land. Photo by Mark Stephenson

Four considerations before replacing windows

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen


Our home’s windows are very old, and when the weather is cold, we can feel a chill when we stand near them. Do you think it’s worth replacing them?


First, prepare yourself for a bit of sticker shock when you get your first bid for replacing windows. To help you decide if replacement is the right move, you’ll want to consider a few factors.

Increased comfort

The chill you feel near your windows when it’s cold out is likely due to radiant heat loss. When you’re near a cold surface, such as a window, you can feel chilled even if the temperature inside your home is over 70 degrees. Your body is much warmer than the surface of the window, and heat radiates from warm to cold. The inside surface of an inefficient, single-pane window will be much colder on a winter night than that of a double or triple-pane window.

Window coverings are one unique ap- proach to increasing the comfort level of your home. Curtains and blinds are very effective at reducing radiant heat loss in the winter and can even block some unwanted heat gain in the summer.

Another aspect to comfort is the sun. If you have cold winters but lots of win- ter sunshine, you might enjoy the comfort and warmth of the sun streaming through your windows on a cold clear day. If that’s the case, you should take this into consid- eration as you ponder window replacement. Some windows are better at letting the sun’s heat into the home than others.

Appearance and function

Since your windows are older, new wood-or vinyl-framed windows can act as an exterior facelift. But keep in mind, if you own an older home with classic wooden windows, vinyl replacements might look out of place. It’s possible to buy new windows that match the style of some older wooden windows, or you could decide to apply a little elbow grease to get them back into shape. Wooden windows, even if they were built before 1960, can last the life of the home.

Windows can provide ventilation, which sometimes improves comfort more cost-effectively than air conditioning. Windows also need to be cleaned occasionally. If your existing windows don’t provide ventilation or they are hard to clean, replacing them could solve these problems.

Resale value

Windows are a major point of interest for most prospective homebuyers, which is why we often hear that window replacement is good for resale value. But a 2019 study by the National Association of Realtors found that on average across the U.S. installing new vinyl windows costs about $22,000 per home but only increased resale value by $16,500. Only 4% of realtors said the new windows helped close the sale, so if resale value is your main objective, the costs could likely out-weigh the return on investment.

Energy savings

Homeowners often believe that the best way to reduce energy use is to replace their windows, but this is rarely true. Companies that sell new windows sometimes advertise greater energy savings than the new windows can actually deliver. The amount of energy you save really depends on the efficiency of your existing windows compared to the efficiency of the replacement windows. An energy auditor can estimate potential savings, but most audits show that there are much more cost-effective efficiency investments than replacing windows.

On average, according to ENERGYSTAR, replacing single-pane windows in a 2,000 square-foot home with ENERGYSTAR-certified windows will produce an average savings of $125 to $340 a year, depending on where you live. At this rate, it would take a decade or more to pay off your initial investment.

Replacing old windows can provide a number of benefits, but it’s a costly endeavor. By considering these factors and how long you plan to live in the home, you’ll be able to make the right decision. Next month we’ll provide information that will help you decide what to look for in a replacement window.

This column was co-written by Pat Kee- gan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on the 4 main benefits of new windows, please visit: energytips.